days out

Bray to Greystones cliff walk is a scenic and historic delight

Bray cliff walk - View of Dalkey island and Howth Head.jpg

Sometimes over the years I’ve missed out on trying something that is right on my doorstep. I used to work in Bray a few decades ago and I never thought back then of walking the famous 5.5 km cliff trail from Bray Head to Greystones. Better late than never though, so I gave it a go last week.

Directions were straightforward. An assistant in a local pharmacy told a friend and me to go to the beach, turn right and keep going. We had arrived on the DART (the urban electric train) from Dublin city centre and the beach promenade was right beside the station so finding it was no problem. The town of Bray was originally developed as a popular resort in Victorian times and features a long promenade. The bandstand dates back to the 1890s.

The railway was finished in 1856 and full marks go to the adventurous Victorian engineers for their tunnels through the rocky cliff face.

The railway was finished in 1856 and full marks go to the adventurous Victorian engineers for their tunnels through the rocky cliff face.

A beautiful coastLINE with wild flowers and sea birds

A variety of wild flowers scramble along the path and down to the rocks below.

A variety of wild flowers scramble along the path and down to the rocks below.

Some people think the east coast of Ireland tame compared to Connemara or West Cork but the views inspired me. The walk is what I would call moderately difficult. This has a rough stony surface in places and is also sometimes steep. Wicklow County Council has kindly added steps at the toughest parts.

Perhaps what I found most interesting was the way the railway line meanders along the edge of the sea. You can see how close the train goes to the water in one of the photos below. The cliff walk came into being to help men and materials reach the railway construction site.

The story goes that in the mid-nineteenth century the Earl of Meath refused to allow the railway to cut through the land of his Kilruddery estate but he handed over the cliff area for free. The line was completed in 1856 with adventurous Victorian engineers designing tunnels through rocks at the edge of the ocean. It was a costly and sometimes dangerous enterprise, with rocks falling and erosion by the sea. In the photo below you’ll see a second tunnel, now abandoned, on the outside of the one in current use. A dramatic crash took place here in August 1867 when a bridge collapsed and a train with passengers plummeted 30 feet. I’ve put the link below where you can read the history of Bray as a resort and the extension of the railroad, if you’d like to see some illustrations.

On the right is a second tunnel that was abandoned after a bridge collapsed in 1867.

On the right is a second tunnel that was abandoned after a bridge collapsed in 1867.

Greystones is a colourful Victorian village with a strong harbour wall

The town of Greystones features briefly in my novel The Neglected Garden as it is where Gilly goes with her sister when the secrets at Glanesfort and its walled garden are threatening to envelop her. In 2010 it still had a Victorian village feel to it, teetering on the edge of modernisation, with old colourful houses facing a grey stony beach. A new harbour wall had recently been constructed, which people could walk along.

The DART electric train runs along the sea at the bottom of the cliffs.

The DART electric train runs along the sea at the bottom of the cliffs.

I noticed as we rounded the bend and Greystones came into view that the new development is now almost finished. Honey-hued houses with balconies face towards Dalkey Island and Howth Head and their view must be breathtaking. The old village is still there and hasn’t changed much although we had to walk right through the housing estate to get to it. The marina and slipway has also had a face lift since 2010.

An interesting array of cafés and restaurants in Greystones

Greystones has interesting cafés and restaurants. We finished our walk with a bright plate of salad and dahl in The Happy Pear and then took the train back to Dublin. The good news for less active types is that you don’t even have to force yourself to walk 5.5 kilometres: the DART train goes all the way. If you ever find yourself on the train out of Dublin to Greystones, keep an eye out for Killiney Bay. The view is wonderful, especially if the sun decides to shine.


I stumbled upon Dublin's 'Secret Garden'

Iveagh Gardens - Building & railings.jpg

I love old secret gardens, hidden away behind walls where ivy trails the paths and the bustle of a city slips away. I stumbled upon Dublin’s ‘Secret Garden’ yesterday.

On a warm April morning when dog walkers and tourists stopped to chat, I was talking to a complete stranger about her two Bichons when I noticed an old gateway at the end of Clonmel Street, off Harcourt Street. If you don’t know our capital city, this is a stone’s throw from the centre and St Stephen’s Green.

Iveagh Gardens - Lawn.jpg

A passer-by stopped to advise me (as they do in Ireland). No, he said, this was not the famous park, this was called the Iveagh Gardens.

So I had to take a look and here it is. A peaceful oasis in the centre where locals take their thoughts and cups of coffee. So quiet too - a silence broken only by birdsong and a young girl playing a guitar on one of the steps leading down to a lawn.

The Iveagh Gardens isn’t alive with bright flowers or splashing ducks. It is cool and green and soothing, where trees throw shadows across grass and wrought-iron gates in high walls lead to gardens at the back of Georgian houses. It is a glimpse into the past.

Iveagh Gardens - Path.jpg

Apparently it was once the site of the Dublin Exhibition Palace in 1865 and now it has been restored and is cared for by the Office of Public Works. If you’d like a stroll through a historic garden or even a short cut from Harcourt Street to the National Concert Hall on Earlsfort Terrace, walk through the gates of the Iveagh Gardens and allow yourself a few minutes to drift back in time.

Iveagh Gardens - Steps to gate.jpg

The Neglected Garden is a page-turner seeded with mystery, romance and suspense. Available worldwide.

Dramatic setting for two walled gardens at Duckett's Grove

Ducketts Grove ruin.jpg

Duckett's Grove. A ruin of an Irish Victorian Gothic mansion, abandoned and mysteriously set on fire. Home now only to the birds that swoop amongst its turrets (and several ghosts, according to locals).

I love walled gardens and their history. I was fascinated to find Duckett's Grove last week in County Carlow, with its two interconnecting walled gardens built of red brick with curved corners. The first garden has large lawns and long borders with a mix of shrubs and herbaceous planting. The second garden is smaller than the first and includes a row of fruit trees. 

Walled Gardens - Ducketts Grove ruin from garden.jpg

The property oozes romance and mystery. Ghost hunters flock to it and it has also been used as a film set. The dramatic Gothic features were added to a Georgian mansion in the nineteenth century. The Duckett family left it in the early 1900s and, three decades later, the house went on fire one night. Locals managed to put out the blaze but another fire the following week destroyed the property. No one knows who or what started it.

The gardens are being restored and maintained by Carlow County Council. It's an interesting place to visit for a walk and a cup of tea. But perhaps not after dark.

I look forward to further developments there. 

More info here...…/